Parts: SATB and unison melody (2 scores included in PDF: SATB score and melody score)
Themes: Creation itself sings and celebrates, praise, the healing power of song, instruments, jubilee
Use in worship: Processional
Written for a search for hymns about music, this poem is set to AVE VIRGO VIRGINEM. It echoes language from the psalms, with contemporary references.
Its imagery is also inspired by Daniel Levitan's book This is Your Brain on Music, and the documentaries Amandla! a Revolution in Four-Part Harmony and Young at Heart.
Music lifts our longing heart,
Offers grace for grieving,
Turns our labour into dance,
Sorrow to thanksgiving.
Music feeds each seeking soul
With God’s holy manna.
We, with instrument and voice,
Offer glad hosanna.
And There was Evening
Parts:Spoken leader and congregational refrain, with music for flute, alto sax, trumpet, trombone, violin, cello improvisation
Use in worship: Lectionary scripture reading with music
The reading of the Genesis account of creation is brought to musical life, involving the congregation with a refrain (“And there was evening, and there was morning...”) and instrumental accompaniment.
Instrumentalists improvise from a musical framework. We found this an accessible and exciting way to introduce the joy and discipline of improvisation to young or beginning players.
As a hart longs for flowing streams
Parts:Unison, 2-part and some simple SATB. Refrain with canon
Themes: Longing for God, grief, remembering past joys, hoping in God in the midst of darkness and turmoil
Use in worship: Processional, Call to worship, Sung Psalm (Psalm 42 is a lectionary reading for Year C), anthem with congregational refrain. The refrain may be used as a psalm Antiphon, as it appears in The Book of Psalms.
At the heart of many psalms is a turning point, a change from deep soul-trouble to joy. This song, based on Psalm 42 (43), portrays this change with a haunting melody in the verses, and a driving, dance-like refrain.
The poet of Psalm 42 sings of longing and despair, the soul feeling forgotten by God, at odds with her community. But the poet remembers: remembers leading the people to the house of prayer, remembers the songs that they sang together, the “glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.”
This is a song written for the community at Beaches Presbyterian Church in Toronto. We mostly used it as an anthem, but it can also be a congregational song, particularly effective when the choir (or a soloist) sings the verses, and the people sing the refrain. The refrain alone can be used as an antiphon for Psalm 42 and 43.
Better Take Shelter
Parts:Sung psalm (contemporary chant style) with congregational refrain: solo Cantor, four-part harmonization on refrain, with piano. Optional intro and outtro.
Themes: Lament, oppression, trust in God
Use in worship: Psalm reading response to themes of oppression and abuse of power
The urgency of the refrain, “Better take shelter in the Holy One,” is expressed by its short, repeated phrasing, syncopated rhythm and by the clash of the melody against the harmony.
This setting is a responsorial psalm setting, but in a contemporary vernacular. The cantor gets to sing the opening dedication, common in many psalms. The Psalm 64 heading “To the Leader. A psalm of David” becomes “Here’s one for the leader of the band. King David’s psalm is now my song.”
Companions in the Way
Parts:SATB with piano and optional bass
Themes: Arts in community, stories of Jesus, communion
Use in worship: Communion anthem with congregational participation
Written for an arts and worship conference, the heart of this song is that moment in Mark’s gospel (Ch. 4) where Jesus uses a boat as a pulpit. To me, this is also the essence of artistic play: to transform common objects - paint, stone, sound, movement, rhythm - to grab hold of us, tell a story, probe a nerve, evoke an emotion, teach us to look at our world differently. This song invites us to Jesus’ kind of meal, radically inclusive and generous, where he "transforms a table to a door, to open wide in welcome in his name."
The one who saw the heavens torn apart, And knew God’s kingdom close at hand, Says, bring your skill, your craft, your art: Come learn of me to fish on dry land.
Feuilles-O (Haitian Kyrie)
Themes: Kyrie, mercy, crying out to God in desperate times
Use in worship: Sung prayer, response to a litany, choir anthem
“Feuilles-O” is a traditional Haitian song about a sick child, invoking the healing power of “feuilles”: leaves. I think it probably came to North America through the folk scene in New York in the 1960’s. Like many folk songs, it has been sung to lament or protest social or political situations.
I wrote this arrangement, and added a “Kyrie eleison” text during the time of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 to offer as a sung prayer. A number of hymns were written in response to the earthquake, mostly to standard European hymn tunes. My approach was, let’s respond to this Haitian crisis by singing a Haitian song.
“Kyrie eleison,” “Lord, have mercy” seemed an appropriate text. I added “Sauvez-moi la vie, O Jésus, je vous prie” (Save my life, O Jesus, I pray), partly in response to news reports that showed people singing hymns as they waited for help.
Sauvez-moi la vie, O Jésus, je vous prie (Save my life, O Jesus, I pray to you)
Themes: How God turns human wisdom upside down, scripture paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 1: 18-28
Use in worship: Sung version of the scripture reading
I would have liked to be present, a fly on a wall, or a kid sitting on a window ledge, when the Apostle Paul was engaged in debate with one of his contemporaries. He was clearly a master dialectician. He may have been thinking of Isaiah 29:14 he took the accusation of the foolishness of the Christian gospel, and turned it on its head to counter his opponents.
The arrangement is a straight-forward piano/vocal, but it can be done in a folk, country or bluegrass style.
Go with Peace to the World
Parts:SATB, Choir, with an optional solo beginning
Themes: Trinitarian blessing, mission
Use in worship: Blessing, sending out
A collaboration with Rev. Diane J. Strickland.
Go with peace to the world.
Take the love of God who made you,
Jesus who came for you,
and the Spirit who will never leave you.
Hilariter Lord’s Prayer
Parts:SATB with optional piano
Themes: Justice, God’s realm, forgiveness of sin, daily food
Use in worship: Sung Lord's Prayer, choral anthem
Published in: The Book of Praise (Presbyterian Church in Canada)
This melodic, mysterious setting can be sung either on its own, or in a liturgy. The melody moves like a chant tune, but given urgency and drive by its rhythmic motifs.
It can be sung by a congregation, but is also harmonized for choir.
This prayer addresses God, but raises a clear call to human responsibility in the work of forgiving and reconciling, and for collaborating with God to wage peace and make justice.
Holy, Holy, Holy (NICEA)
Parts: Piano, alto saxophone, Bb trumpet
Themes: Revelation, God's holiness
Use in worship: Congregational hymn, call to worship, general praise, Trinity Sunday
This is a slow pop ballad arrangement of NICEA with countermelodies for Alto Saxophone and Bb Trumpet.
The intent of this arrangement is to offer a musical bridge between contemporary Christian pop music and classic European/North American musical genres. I have used it to encourage a congregation, used to singing the short phrases of Praise and Worship songs, to sustain its singing energy over the longer phrases of a common hymn meter.
Il est né, le divin enfant
Parts:SATB, with some divided parts. Different verses feature the sections of the choir
Themes: Joy, birth, celebration
Use in worship: Choir anthem on Christmas eve, Christmas concert, Sunday worship during the Christmas season
A bilingual (French/English) arrangement of the old French carol with congregation/audience participation. This medium-difficulty arrangement is meant for those wonderful Christmas season sing-along concerts and hymn festivals. The audience joins the choir in French on refrains. This setting captures some of the spirit of old French carols: by turns charming, mystical, rustic, elegant, reverent and merry -like the season itself. And yes, there are some shepherds’ bagpipe moments.
The English translation aims at catching some of the meaning behind the lists of instruments in the refrain:
He is born! Now the child has come.
Fill all the air with our merry carolling
Play the pipe, beat the joyful drum:
hope is born, for the child has come.
Mary Laid Her Baby Down
Parts:SATB with piano and handbells, optional solos and children's choir
Themes: Jesus’ ministry, Mary’s gift of letting go
Use in worship: Anthem for Epiphany and/or Easter
I arranged Gordon Light's song about Mary's gift of letting her son go. Part of this 5-verse song can be sung early in the church year - during Epiphany, for example - and then the whole song at Easter. This arrangement gives each section of the choir its moment to portray poignancy, pain and joy in telling Mary’s story.
This arrangement keeps the syncopated folk/pop feel of the original Common Cup song, its dramatic and emotional moments gently underscored in the harmonization.
Mary's Magnificent Song
Parts:Solo (mezzo soprano or alto), SATB choir, piano, steel pan, guitar, bass (3 scores included in PDF: full score, piano score, vocal score). Congregation joins on refrain
Themes: God's promises, overturning structures of power, justice, joy, celebration
Use in worship: Advent anthem, vesper service with global or world music theme
Mary's song is here presented as a joyful Latin-and Caribbean-infused dance song, up-tempo and infectious. An insistent, tuneful bass pattern underscores her strength and determination, and the steel pans sparkle with her joy. A fragment of a chant tune, traditionally associated with the Magnificat text, recalls God's promise to Sarah and Abraham. The song ends with the joyful opening refrain, sung by soloist, choir and congregation - and the steel pans have the last word.
O Holy God, There was a Time
Parts:Melody line with keyboard accompaniment. Orchestration also available for strings, woodwinds, guitar and accordion; contact Andrew for details
Themes: Longing for a return of God’s favour, God’s justice re-established
Use in worship: In place of a psalm reading, hymn for an Advent service on justice and peace
(Psalm 85 paraphrase using Huron Carol melody 'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime')
Psalm 85 is a compact, eloquent and powerful evocation of our longing for God’s justice and peace. I thought the words should have some Canadian touches, so there is a nod to Leonard Cohen in one of the lines. Kudos (but no prize) if you find it.
The original song, “Jesous Ahatonhia “ (“Jesus is born”) was composed by French Jesuit Father Jean de Brébeuf, missionary among the Huron/Wendat people in the 17th century. It is often said that it is based on “Une Jeune Pucelle,” but I think its roots are rather in the tradition of such chant-based carols or processionals as PICARDIE (“Let all mortal flesh keep silent”) or VENI EMMANUEL (“Oh come, Oh come, Emmanuel”).
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (LOBE DEN HERREN)
Parts:2 versions included: arrangement for piano only, and arrangement for piano, trumpet in Bb, trombone, soprano recorder / violin, alto recorder
Themes: God’s providence is active, even though we might not always see it.
Use in worship: Opening praise hymn
This is a Celtic-style arrangement for congregational singing. Think “Great Big Sea” Newfoundland folk. It is a good hymn for praise band accompaniment, particularly with a 12-string guitar strum as its rhythmic drive.
Riding on a Donkey
Parts:Leader and congregation with piano
Themes: Palm Sunday, linking Jesus’ march on Jerusalem with God’s realm being more powerful than human empires
Use in worship: Palm/Passion Sunday
A rollicking re-telling of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus’ peace-march was a mocking, prophetic counterpoint to Pilate and his security forces entering the troubled city before Passover. This song provides a good way of involving children in the story beyond waving palm branches. Have Jesus with the donkey come down one aisle, and Pilate with soldiers coming down another. Especially effective with a papier-mâché donkey head.
This song links Jesus’ march on Jerusalem with other, historic, peaceful marches:
Cry “Salaam” and “Hosanna!”
“Freedom!” “Justice!” “Amandla!”
“Jesus, come, Maranatha,”
Riding on a donkey.
The original song is a classic Canadian folk song: it’s based on the Scottish tune “Heilan’ Laddie” and emigrated to Canada where it put down roots and became a decidedly different tree.
She Flies On
Parts:SATB and solo with piano and flute
Themes: The long journey of God’s spirit through human history
Use in worship: Choir anthem, prayer response, season of Pentecost
Published in (congregational version with piano): The Book of Praise (The Presbyterian Church in Canada); Voices United The United Church of Canada); The Faith We Sing (Abingdon Press)
This gentle, flowing arrangement of Gordon Light's "She Comes Sailing on the Wind" has taken on a life of its own. The Spirit-like flute solo that floats through the piece could be played by any other sustaining instrument. This piece soars when you adapt to fit your community's musical gifts.
See below for a call-and-response commissioning litany to accompany the piece in worship.
This evocative and affirming text commissions the community for the ongoing work of the Spirit, interwoven with Gordon Light's "She Flies On". See above for the SATB music.
Silent, Holy... (A jazz-gospel Silent Night)
Parts:Solo vocal (alto range), SATB choir (some divided parts), piano
Themes: The birth of the Christ Child in a jazz-gospel mode
Use in worship: Christmas, Christmas Eve
The original carol set the nativity story in its own time and place: a bright, starry, winter’s night in 19th century Austria. It evokes the holiness of this birth through stillness and quiet. My slow, gospel jazz setting draws out of the original melody earthiness and passion, evoking the sudden, surprising song of the angels, the shepherd’s fearful reaction, and the surge of joy as, against all odds, a miraculous child is born.
The Body is One
Parts:Unison vocal with piano, and congregational refrain. Also available: mixed choir with solos, piano, instrumental ensemble
Themes: Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 1:12-26, Christian community as a body, diverse and united by one Spirit.
Use in worship: A sung response to this lectionary reading (Third Sunday after the Epiphany), Communion
This song is at once an infectious invitation to the table of communion, a call to unity and a lively paraphrase setting of one of the most moving and eloquent passages in the letters of the apostle Paul. Built on a single repeating chord progression which musically expresses its insistent call to oneness, the song plays on the humour in the epistle to the fractious Corinthian church:
Eye can’t say to hand, “Don’t need you.”
Head can’t say to feet, “Don’t need you.”
Knee can’t say to hip, “Don’t need you.”
Tongue can’t say to lip, “Don’t need you.”
Upon this Rock
Parts:SATB in a blues-gospel mode with piano, optional solos, Lead sheet with chords
Themes: Justice, Longing and working for the reign of God, Building a people of peace, upon the rock where God stands with the poor, Collaborating with God
Use in worship: Choir anthem with congregational refrain
Published in: Conference booklet of the Baptist Peace Fellowship, July 1999.
This song is ideal for either a mixed choir to explore contemporary themes of the work for justice, or a pop/gospel group looking to enrich a repertoire of praise songs. Written for the summer Peace Camp conference of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America in Vancouver, 1999, this blues/gospel song expresses both the struggles and the promise of waging peace. Its theme was “Building a Culture of Peace”.
“The need is overwhelming, there’s so much to be done, So many live in danger, thirst and hunger, lose their dreams, It always seems we’ve just begun. But Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid...stand firm: for I am with you! Upon this rock...
Use in worship: Sunday toward the end of Epiphany, Passion Sunday
This is a hymn about the compelling, disturbing Jesus, the one between the words “born of the Virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate” in the Apostles Creed: the healer, story-teller and risk-taker.
Many journeyed to adore you;
some proclaimed you earthly Lord;
yet you chose to live as servant:
healer, teacher, living Word.
We Will Go Out with Joy
Parts:Leader, congregation (SATB) and percussion
Themes: Spirit, singing, joy, Alleluia!
Use in worship: Recessional
A lively going-out song featuring call-and-response and playful syncopated alleluias. It has been sung at weddings and graduations as well as at church services. It is a going-out song to get people out of their seats, a catchy, dancing recessional that sends them out exhilarated and energized. We have also sung this song at times of painful partings as a balm, as a reminder that we go with God and therefore there is joy.
It can be easily taught in a call-and-response style, especially the two different alleluias in the middle section. The bridge is intended for choir and can be omitted, if desired. The song can be expanded with instrumental and vocal solos.
This song started out as a four-handed improvisation with my daughter Hilary, at home on a visit from university. The little four-note melody stuck with both of us, and we started e-mailing lyrics back and forth.
Why do the powerful have it so good?
Parts:Reader (spoken), two congregational refrains, piano accompaniment, chord symbols
Themes: Anger at the oppression of the rich and powerful
This is a psalm paraphrase in colloquial English to be recited rhythmically, with sung refrains by the congregation. It is best performed by a reader, or readers, who can speak dramatically and rhythmically. Serious in intent, it uses humour, sly pop culture references and shifts in tone to express in contemporary terms the ancient text.
If your congregation loves drama, it can be performed as a series of short scenes, and can be read and sung as part of an interpretive dance. The music offers scope for instrumentalists to improvise, interacting with the reader, and for the congregation and choir to add echoes and ad-lib harmonies.
In this psalm, the poet, angry at the excesses and the injustices of the filthy rich, goes to the “sanctuary of God.” It is there that insight comes. Those positions of privilege might last only until the next régime change, and with sudden violence and terror be swept away. The psalmist also realizes that when all is said and done,
I would rather cry out for God
Than whisper with the wicked.
Zacchaeus was a Tax Man
Parts:Call/response with piano
Themes: Losing and finding your way, restorative justice, iiving God's realm, personal transformation, reconciliation
Use in worship: Inter-generational song, "children's sermon" where the children help to tell the gospel story
Set to a Quebecois chanson à répondre, this is a good way to engage the congregation - children and adults alike - in telling Luke’s funny and touching gospel story about the crooked, little man. This style of song comes alive when sung round-table style, with a leader and responding groups, as shown in the music. It then becomes like a short, sung play in which the whole congregation takes part.